La Shaun speaks candidly with WMN about her experiences as one of the most sought after choreographers in the country.
With twenty three years of experience under her belt, La Shaun is a well-known force in the local music industry, having worked with many of our high ranking soca stars and a couple international musicians over the years as both a dancer and choreographer. However, the dancer actually began in her pre teen years as a young aspiring gymnast. “I was involved in gymnastics at the time and my mom decided to enroll me in Carol La Chapelle’s dance class to get more grace for my gymnastic routines” she says, thus introducing her to what would become her true passion. Over the years, Prescott has had quite a few mentors that have molded her into the dancer that she is now. “It would be a long list to start calling names, (but) I have always followed a lot of the key players in the industry,” she says, adding that she is always trying to “learn from their ways of doing business as well as choreography and teaching.” Le Shaun recalls her first big performance.
“It was at the Normandie, I think. I was utterly nervous. I remember trying to peek through the stage curtains to see if my parents were already seated and being reprimanded for doing so” she joked. In spite of her first time jitters that night, she would go on to grace the stage with some of the biggest acts in the industry, including Beyonce during her sold out concert in Trinidad a few years ago, as well as Pit Bull, Omi and Nicki Minaj, in addition to local stars like Patrice Roberts, Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano, just to name a few.
Like so many before her, Le Shaun spent some time in the corporate world before pursuing her true passion full time, working in the Ministry of Trade and Industry as an industry specialist. During her time there, she was also choreographing and dancing for Machel Montano.
“I realised that the experiences that I had while dancing, resonated with me more than those in the corporate world,” she says. She would soon leave that life behind to ful_ l her dreams as a dancer fulltime, a move that has clearly worked out for her, through hard work and dedication to her craft, of course.
She has worked around the world, while on tour with Machel, as well as on her own. With Montano, she has been to the US, Canada, Europe and several Caribbean countries. Since then, she has spent a great deal of time conducting soca workshops in London, Atlanta, Guadeloupe, and was even on staff at the Mark Morris Dance Center in New York teaching weekly soca dance classes. “Through my work with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, I’ve also been fortunate to attend and present at conferences in Spain and Switzerland,” she adds. She will be conducting a few more workshops in Guadeloupe as well as Martinique, continuing to bring soca to people who have never experienced it before, as well as homesick Trinbagonians abroad. “I have been working at pushing soca dance as a separate genre internationally and it gives me great pleasure when I see it being embraced by others around the globe,” Le Shaun says, but her dancing skills are not limited to soca. She is also the Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, teaching modern and contemporary dance.
She founded her own school of dance in 2007, The Elle NYTT dance company, which operates out of studios in Cascade, Curepe, Maraval and Brooklyn, New York teaching soca, modern, contemporary and ballet to people of all ages. “I have taught from ages five straight up to 60 years,” she says. It has been a go-to studio for many local artistes for the Carnival season, launching the dance careers of many young upcoming dancers over the years. “It is always a joy to see our choreography and dancers on stage because for many of them, these things are part of their dreams.” . Elle dancers have worked and toured with artistes such as Machel, Destra, Kes, Nadia Batson, Patrice Roberts and most recently Farmer Nappy, who is touring solo now.
Patterning the school structure after several studios abroad with a more relaxed feel, Le Shaun explains, “I saw the need to have open dance classes where persons could take a class without the pressure of an exam structure. We also have a performing company attached to the school, where we would not only do our own self-produced shows but also a lot of corporate events, Carnival performances, commercials etc.”
The Elle NYTT team is a large network of highly qualified and aptly talented dancers and co-ordinators, amounting to almost 50 members, who all assist in propelling the company to new heights. Among them are co-director Halcyon Prescott-Alexander, and operations manager Nichol Narwani-Daniel. Some of the company’s core teachers include Jameelah Toi Phillips, Katherine Carrera, Adrian Daniel, Karian Forde, Shaakir Griffith, Tricia Rae Boyce, Zakiya-Tuere Savary, Zulema Charles, Tonya Welch, and New York-based Candace Thompson. “Our members are selected not only based on their qualifications and experience, but some of the most important recruitment criteria are things like how easy they are to work with, punctuality, and level of professionalism.”
The company has been producing annual school shows since 2011, and it showcases not only the talent of the choreographers that put the show together, but the upcoming talent of the dancers they work with. Their annual show will be held on June 4 and 5 at Queens Hall. “People can expect to see a true representation of our company slogan which is to ‘Experience Different Styles’.” The company is also undergoing a fundraising campaign to aid in refurbishing its studios.
Adding to her already lengthy resume, Le Shaun has recently embarked on a new journey of turning soca into exercise. The SokaFit programme is aired on a local television station and has been steadily growing in popularity due to its fun soca-themed exercise moves. “The key is that it does not feel like exercise, and a lot of people don’t see dance as exercise,” she says, adding that “we’re also trying to change that public perception, because it is. Dance can give a full body work out, assists with several areas such as co-ordination, balance, strength and endurance.” Le Shaun says that “Trinbagonians can wine as second nature, but they don’t realise how great this is for working the abdominal muscles, obliques, quads and gluts.”
Showing no signs of slowing down, the accomplished dancer is on a mission to ensure that everyone gets in touch with their inner-soca